Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Using Technology in the Classroom Final Reflection

Final Reflection

(Before I begin answering questions, I’d like to say that I had a great time in this class and learned a lot from all of you.  Thank you all for your excellent input!)
  • In what ways has this course helped you to develop your own technology skills as a professional teacher?
This course allowed me the opportunity of exploring wikis more fully.  I was reminded of what a great tool they are for learning, and my classmates showed me some new applications for this tool that convinced me that I should be using them in my classroom.  More importantly, I had an opportunity to communicate with well-educated and dedicated professionals in collaborative endeavors in order to achieve our common goals.  That’s an important 21st century skill, and one that I can’t acquire without stepping out of my comfort zone a little bit and taking a class like this one.
  • In what ways have you deepened your knowledge of the teaching and learning process?
While I was taking this course, I learned that I will be teaching high-school English this year, which is a big jump from the middle-school computer science and computer applications classes that I had been teaching for the past 7 years.  I was able, during the course of this class, to take some of the most important things I had learned which teaching Computer classes and apply them to the new English classes that I will be creating this year. I have re-discovered the importance of using wikis and class blogs, for example.  I was also reminded of the importance of publishing information online, when possible, and sharing our work with a larger ausience.
  • In what ways have you changed your perspective from being teacher-centered to learner-centered?  And in what ways can you continue to expand your knowledge of learning, teaching, and leading with technology with the aim of increasing student achievement?
I have always thought of myself as a fairly student-centered teacher.  In the past, I have tried to listen to my students as much as possible and to be as non-judgmental as possible about their answers. I have encouraged them to give me a lot of feedback about what they are and are not learning in my classes.  In the future, though, I can see that I am going to have to let them take more control. I need to get out of the way even further and let them choose the direction of the class right from the beginning, rather than merely letting them evaluate the assignments and projects once they are complete. 

  • Set two long-term goals (within two years) for transforming your classroom environment by which you may have to overcome institutional or systemic obstacles in order to achieve them. How do you plan to accomplish these goals?
1.      Within two years, I hope to find a group of International students with whom I can collaborate on a blog.  We could choose a novel to read together, and blog on the topics touched on by that article, or we could just read and comment on news stories from a particular online newspaper or an online journal.  That would be an excellent addition to the classes I teach, because it will lend us a perspective that is very different from our own and that we couldn’t get access to any other way.
Depending on the reading material we choose, I may encounter institutional obstacles based upon the topic or the expense.  If the objection is expense-based, we could apply for an internal grant through our PTA group, or try some fundraising.  This wouldn’t be a difficult obstacle to overcome.  Frankly, sometimes I overcome this obstacle by just getting out my personal checkbook. If the students choose a book that doesn’t get approved by the board, we would have a much bigger fight on our hands.  To avoid this problem, the best thing to do is to be proactive and take a few students with me to the presentation/proposal I make to the board. Normally, two dedicat4ed and sincere students is enough, as long as it is a reasonable request.  The board isn’t comprised of ogres.  They care about the students and like to help foster enthusiasm, as long as it can be channeled appropriately. 
2.      I would like to take some of our tenth grade World Literature students on a trip to Europe.  Since we are studying Julius Caesar, I would like to go to Stratford and/or London and/or Rome.  This will generate intense interest in the work we will be studying, especially among the students who are willing to do the work and take the trip. It’s hard for me to think of a better motivator.  If I were really lucky, I would find a way to combine the blogging with the trip and somehow meet some of these students and teachers in person, eventually. 
In order to pay for this trip, which is going to cost about $3,000 per student,  we are going to have to do some fairly serious fundraising, including a couple of spaghetti dinners, a candy bar sale, a beef jerky sale, and some other event like a haunted house.  Students and parents will also be expected to come up with some of the money themselves, in many cases.  I anticipate some resistance from our board when it comes to creating fundraisers, because other clubs have already staked out their annual fiundraising claims and I won’t be able to overlap fundraisers, by selling candy bars from November to December, for example, or by clashing with the Senior class’s spaghettui dinners.  However, the next school district over has been taking this trip for years and they have offered to team up with us to help organize and to bring the costs down for everyone.  I think we should be able to get this one passed.  We’ll see.

  • Refer to your checklist from Week 1. Have any of your answers changed after completing this course?
I’m not entirely certain to which checklist this question refers.  If it’s asking me about which technologies I think are important to use in the classroom, I still think that creating and posting podcasts are very valuable skills and that my students learn a lot when they do it.  I think they might gain more if I would allow them to post their research online, especially with my senior high students.  For many of the same reasons, I also think wikis and blogs would be great tools that I could use a lot more than I do right now.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Partnership for 21st Century Skills

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills is an organization that advocates for increased technology usage in the classroom and the development of technological literacy in American students.  The first thing I noticed on their website was the impressive list of corporate partners who are working with them to further their goals.  The list includes AOL, Apple, Cisco Systems, Dell, and Microsoft. I think it is important that companies like these take an interest in the American education system; without their input, I think, America stands to lose its competitive edge in the coming decades. 
The partnership does a great deal of work with legislators and policy-makers, I was happy to see.  They have been working to improve professional development for teachers, which I think is crucial at this point.  They are also monitoring curriculum and standards development across the nation.  They have helped to build a 15-state coalition dedicated to improving the use of technology in schools.  I was interested to be able to read a synopsis of what each state is doing in regards to integrating technology into the state standards.  My home state of Pennsylvania began integrating technology into each of the core subjects, recently. I teach some English classes, and I think the English standards were improved immensely.
If I had to choose something from the site to disagree with, I would say that they are a bit too fervently evangelical in their tone at times. The partnership provides a report in PDF format that advocates for a massive influx of technology into our school systems and explains what our students need to use this technology to learn.  The first paragraph of their PDF states that, “Today’s education system faces irrelevance unless we bridge the gap between how students live and how they learn,” and that is taking it a bit too far, I think.  Yes, bridging that gap is important, but I know that students with a solid foundation in the core skills of reading, writing and mathematics can often bridge that gap with little or no help from me.  In fact, they are often quite innovative about it, and come up with applications that I hadn’t thought of.  The site also states that we must, “commit to ensuring that all students have equal access to this technological world, regardless of their economic background,” which is a noble goal, but which is also impractical to the point of absurdity. We live in a capitalist society.  Our economic system ensures that there are going to be richer kids and poorer kids, the haves and the have-nots. I believe Education should do what it can to close the gap as much as possible, knowing that we can’t succeed in leveling the playing field for everyone.   
Still, it is important to try and I do believe we can make an enormous difference.  The partnership lists 5 main skills that students should focus on as they progress through school: 1. Emphasize the core subjects, 2. Emphasize the core learning skills, 3. Use 21st century skills to develop learning skills, 4. Teach and learn in a 21st century context, and 5. Teach and learn 21st century content.  I agreed whole-heartedly with their list of skills.  The have looked closely at the NETS standards and they mirror them quite nicely, I think.  Overall, I think the site is excellent.  I plan to use it as a resource the next time I get a chance to work with administrators and school board members to build new policies governing curriculum building and the use of our newly revised state standards.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Re: Using Blogs in the Classroom, for Bridging Learning Theory, Instruction, and Technology


In the past, I have used blogs to spice up our large-group classroom discussions.  Normally, I assign a particular topic to each student and ask him or her to become an expert in that topic and regularly report on it in a blog.  In my Eighth Grade Computer class, for example, topics include Internet neutrality, copyright issues, cell phone and iPad apps, new gadgets, government regulations, all things Google, Apple Corporation, Microsoft Corporation, social networking, web 2.0 issues, etc.  Students are then responsible for using the blogs and the information contained within them to "co-host" a class discussion with me at least once and to contribute more informally to the class discussions they aren't hosting.  I like the way blogs can empower the students as speakers, helping them to solidify their opinions and allowing all of us to keep informed about the constantly-changing landscape of technology.

Right now, we publish to a site that is only visible to other class members.  I would love to be able to publish our work to a site that is more public, but I am worried about Internet trolls and cyberbullies.  I don't want my students to get hurt and I don't want my school district to suffer any liabilities, so I would have to create an appropriate form for the students and their parents to sign, first, of course.  Then maybe it would be more appropriate to have them publish group work to begin with.   What do you think?

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Repurposing Electronics

A MacQuarium is a great option if you keep Siamese Fighting Fish or Guppies. 

My students got me really interested in recycling electronic devices this year.  I love my ipod, cellphone, Macbook, iMac, digital cameras, Promethean Board, projector, Wii Fit,  home theater--all that jazz--to distraction.  I just love new gadgets.  David Pogue is on my blogroll--I've got it that bad.  I spent a good amount of time last summer setting up our in-home wireless network so that I could avoid a cable bill by going all-Netflix-and-Hulu-all-the time.  It isn't easy for me address any issues arising from my conspicuous consumption of electronics.  But it turns out to be ridiculously difficult to recycle a PC tower or a gaming system or even a GPS responsibly. In May, we watched a PBS special called Ghana: Digital Dumping Ground, which is about the ways in which the current economics of recycling dictates that third-world nations take in our useless electronics and allow their poorest citizens to poison themsleves and their environments with our waste.  It was an eye-opening and frustrating film to watch.

We supplemented our understanding by watching Annie Leonard's excellent piece, "The Story of Stuff."   She points out that we used to produce less waste and purchase products less frequently, so I have been trying to think of ways to reduce, reuse, repair, repurpose, and recycle as many products as I can, especially electronic products.  Over the course of the next few weeks, I'll be interviewing people on their best repurposing efforts of late.  Stay tuned!